Saints, Tigers coaches on AFLW entry, VFLW and plans for the draft

EXPANSION sides Richmond and St Kilda are in preparation mode ahead of their entry into the NAB AFLW competition next year.

Both teams have qualified for the upcoming VFLW finals in their second year in the competition, St Kilda through its affiliate side Southern Saints.

The Tigers will take on the Western Bulldogs in an elimination final on Sunday at Adcon Stadium (North Port Oval), while the Saints will face Collingwood in their qualifying final on Saturday at Victoria Park. spoke to Richmond coach Tom Hunter and St Kilda coach Peta Searle about their clubs' preparation for 2020 and their VFLW seasons.

Have there been many differences between the 2018 and 2019 VFLW seasons?

"We recruited differently during this VFLW off-season, and about five of those girls we've ended up elevating to our AFLW list. Last year was my first in women's footy and this year I've got a little more understanding of what the game's like and how to coach the girls. It's been different, but it's still been enjoyable.

"I probably felt like last year it was a little more on show, because it was our first year and I felt like I had to coach a certain way. But this year, I've been more myself. I reflected on when I was a teacher, what I was like in the classroom and tried to bring that out and be more me. 

"Our foundations in our first year was very much about the defensive side of the game, and this year we've focused a lot on ball movement and how we want to attack the game, so that's made for a more enjoyable brand of footy to play."

Star recruit Katie Brennan celebrates a goal with her Richmond teammates in the VFLW

"There's been a lot of changes, for good. The competition's grown, basically because a lot of AFLW players have come back and played this year. The elite ones, too, are all playing 10 games.

"The footy's grown, so the people on the park have to grow. I had some players who performed really strongly last year who struggled to get a game this year, it's really hard as a coach because they're so integral to the foundations and culture that were laid."

Will your programs roll over naturally from VFLW to your first AFLW season, or will there be changes along the way?

"We'll have to make some adjustments. There's more time for AFLW, so we'll look to add in an extra session, but we think we've got a good formula to take through to the AFLW.

"But there will obviously be a few things that change. More experienced players allows you to do different things. There's no density (rule) and 16 (compared to 18) on the ground, so a few different factors that go into AFLW that'll mix it up."

"It's a bit of a mixed bag. Some of our players will roll over naturally, and the game plan we're coaching, we'll look to extend that out and roll it over.

"In terms of support around it, we've got some great people which we really wanted to make sure we got the culture piece right. We'll certainly add to it in terms of footy IP, so we're looking at what that looks like at the moment. But essentially, there will be a lot of people who will roll through."

How valuable is qualifying for finals ahead of your AFLW entry next year?

"Last year we had five wins, which was pretty good in itself, because I think we had a team with an average of five VFLW games played before the season started.

"It was always our goal to play finals as a lead-in for AFLW. When we secured that, it was a good feeling. Then we wanted top spot or at least top two to get the second chance, but unfortunately faulted to the 'Tiges' last weekend (to miss out on the minor premiership). 

"In finals, the intensity goes up, the contested ball goes up, it's a step up. Every step we can get a bit closer to what it's going to look like next year is really important."

Southern Saints players are all smiles during a VFLW game this season

What are your plans for the draft?

"We'll get some really good young talent at the front end of the draft, we're really excited to bring them in there. We've got a couple of plans in place for other players we want to bring into our program, so we'll wait and see what it looks like in October."

How have your pre-listed players fared in the VFLW?

"Molly (McDonald) has had a couple of strong weeks, to see her compete at that higher level is really important. She's shown a bit of class with some of those goals she's kicked.

"Isabella (Shannon) has just gone about her work off the backline and hasn't looked out of pace. She's competed and her footy and confidence in the way she uses the ball has really grown.

"I'm really confident that they can compete strongly for us next year and be outstanding players for us five years down the track."